The Kleiderly founder and Forbes 30 Under 30 shortlister on the fire you need as a founder and startup life in Berlin
Find out what Alina Bassi has to say on the fast fashion issue, and learn about how her brand is slowing things down.
Please intro yourself
I grew up in an extremely international environment. I have Indian heritage, with parents born in Tanzania, whilst I was born and raised in the UK. I have been extremely passionate about sustainability from a young age, and even made a film about climate change for school when I was 14.
This passion led me to study chemical engineering, with a goal to work in the sustainability sector. After completing a masters, I started my career in the offshore oil and gas industry, at a consultancy specialising in FPSOs (floating platforms that extract and process oil and gas). I knew that it wasn’t quite right because I really wanted to work in sustainability, but you cannot be very picky as a graduate, and I learned a lot there. After a few more years I moved to working on recycling household waste and even coffee waste. This gave me experience in waste management and circular economy.
In 2018, my husband and I decided to move to Berlin, Europe’s startup capital, and started working on Kleiderly in 2019.
What inspired you to specialise in chemical engineering and manufacturing?
My passion for sustainability and wanting to work in renewable energy inspired me to go into chemical engineering. I always enjoyed putting things together, from lego to furniture, so engineering seemed the way to go. My Mum certainly helped me to look at university prospectuses and analyse my options.
Is it fair to say women are still underrepped in these areas? And is that something you would like to change?
Absolutely. Women, and in particular diverse women, are hugely underrepresented in engineering. Only 16% of engineering students are women. Whilst the numbers have been increasing over the years, we still have a long way to go. I want to encourage other young women within the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), that a career in this space is meaningful and that you can truly make a difference whilst breaking stereotypes.
What things do you know now that you wish you knew in the early stages of your career?
I always took the time to analyse how I felt in a role and whether I was learning or growing in the direction I wanted to. Hence why, early in my career, I moved jobs fairly often. I remember being warned that it wasn’t a good idea, and this did worry me. However looking back, I think this was the best choice to make. I learnt so much from each job, and each change took me further out of my comfort zone, and into roles that got me closer to my goal, which was to ultimately work in sustainability. Looking back, I wish I had worried less about the outcomes and focused more on enjoying the journey.
What inspired you to set-up Kleiderly?
It all started with a trip to Tanzania. Having worked in the waste sector for a while, and visiting many different sites where waste is collected or recycled, I hadn’t seen textile waste firsthand. During a trip to Tanzania, I saw used clothing being sold on second hand markets, and it got me thinking about what happens to textile waste once it reaches its end-of-life. I was shocked to learn that 87% of all materials used for clothing end up in landfills or incinerators. I’ve made it my mission to solve this problem.
London vs Berlin: what do you love about both cities and why?
I love both! London is my home, and the feeling you get when you’re in the city is indescribable. It’s a city that never sleeps, there’s so much to do and it gives me the feeling of endless possibilities. As much as I love London, it does have a population of 9 million people, which can feel overwhelming in day-to-day life.
Hence why I moved to Berlin. It has such a rich history and culture, it’s full of inspiring young people, it has a thriving startup scene, and there’s always something exciting happening. It has all of the thrills of a big city, but with a more manageable population size of 4 million people. You can still live a more relaxed life, and have a great quality of life that is much more affordable but still exhilarating.
Please can you tell us about some of the highlights and company collabs you’ve had to date with Kleiderly?
The journey of Kleiderly has been incredibly thrilling. From being listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 list last year in the Manufacturing and Industry category, to being on the German News channel, Deutsche Welle. Every day is exciting but involves a lot of hard work. We’ve had the chance to speak to many large fashion brands, and have many exciting collaborations cooking!
Have there been any times as a startup founder and entrepreneur when you’ve thought, ‘What am I doing?!’
Absolutely! I think it’s pretty normal. The founder's life has its ups and downs, and it really does feel like a rollercoaster. What helps is having a strong network of founders who understand what you’re going through, and you can share the journey with.
Which of the awards you’ve won to date are you most proud of and why?
Being recognised by Forbes, particularly within the Manufacturing and Industry category, was so incredibly rewarding. It gave me credibility within the manufacturing world, as well as the fire to keep going as a founder. Being a female engineer and woman of colour, it is rare to go into the world of chemical engineering, working in factories within waste recycling. The Forbes acknowledgement is certainly a milestone that has helped me raise awareness on this issue. We need women, and in particular, a range of diverse women in STEM. They are crucial for innovation and progression.
What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
We are launching our own direct to consumer eyewear line that is currently available to pre-order. Besides this, we offer many products directly back to the fashion industry including clothing hangers and anti-theft security tags. We are about to launch a crowd investment campaign with Seedrs, in support of Climate-KIC, and pre-registration is currently available using this link.
If Europe were to incorporate a circular economy, we could halve carbon emissions by 2030. We are at the beginning of this movement. Our vision is to create a circular fashion industry, whereby everything that is produced has a second, third, and fourth life, continuously being reused and avoiding using new resources.
How do you stay inspired in work and life?
To me, doing meaningful work keeps me inspired. I have always taken the time to think back to what my personal mission is in life. It has always been sustainability, and this fuelled my career choice and now my startup. I have a new personal mission to support BAME female founders to raise investment, which I am now doing with my venture, ‘Tech In Colour’. I aim to continue to analyse my mission and continue to do work that inspires me in the future.